DOJ: Albuquerque Police Use 'Excessive Force'

By Julissa Catalan

Photo by Shutterstock

On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that their four-year-long investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department has concluded and that the APD “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force.”

According to a detailed letter from Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Police Chief Gorden Eden, actions by the police force violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, including specifics such as unreasonable searches and seizures.

The report found three excessive patterns:

  • APD officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat, and in situations where the conduct of the officers heightens the danger and contributes to the need to use force.
  • APD officers use less lethal force, including electronic controlled weapons, on people who are passively resisting, non-threatening, observably unable to comply with orders or pose only a minimal threat to the officers.
  • Encounters between APD officers and persons with mental illness and in crisis too frequently result in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.

The letter also states that the investigation determined “structural and systematic deficiencies” within the APD, such as insufficient oversight and inadequate training, “contribute to the use of unreasonable force,” it then goes on to list, “deficient policies, failed accountability systems, inadequate supervision, ineffective systems of investigation and adjudication, the absence of community policing, and a lack of sufficient civilian oversight.

A demand in reform reached an all time high last month following the shooting of James Boyd, a mentally unstable homeless man who had a reputation for violent outbursts.

Boyd was the 37th person shot by an officer—and 23rd killed—since January 2010.

The report acknowledges that out of the 20 fatal shootings ranging from 2009 to 2012, most were unconstitutional.

“Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others,” Samuels wrote. “Instead, officers used deadly forces against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed.”

“We are very concerned by the results of our investigation and look forward to working with the city of Albuquerque to develop a set of robust and durable reforms,” she added.

Samuels also mentioned that the APD had a pattern of frequently misusing electronic control weapons like Tasers, “resorting to use of the weapon on people who are passively resisting, observably non-threatening but unable to comply with orders due to their mental state, or posed only a minimal threat to the officers.”

Samuels thanked Mayor Berry as well as the department for its cooperation in the investigation, per a separate statement.

“Throughout our investigation, APD leadership has been receptive to our preliminary feedback and technical assistance,” she continued.

The investigation involved the examination of extensive documents, hundreds of interviews, meetings with community leaders, and ride-alongs with officers.

Berry said the city of Albuquerque is prepared to work with the Justice Department to make changes. He also said he expects a federal monitor to track progress.

“It won’t be quick and easy, but we can achieve it,” he said per a written statement.

Berry also announced last week the hiring of a deputy police chief to oversee the implementation of the expected recommendations—perhaps already anticipating the results of the investigation.

The Mayor went on to reference Boyd’s shooting, calling it a “game changer”, and saying officer training will be upgraded to include instructions on how to properly handle the mentally challenged.

“I’m calling on our legislators to take action as well to craft laws to help individuals living with mental health issues, particularly individuals who have a propensity to do harm to themselves or others,” he told the press.

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